Why was asbestos used?
Asbestos is known as the Hidden Killer, thanks to an HSE campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of asbestos, a once much-loved material in the construction industry. Asbestos reportedly kills around 40 tradesmen a week, which has been on the rise over decades. This is due to the effect asbestos has on the body, even if you are only encountering asbestos years after its installation in a building, it can still damage you if you come in contact with it years later.
Despite being one of the greatest health risks of the industry, asbestos came into construction as a brilliant material, it was revolutionary in its discovery and useful properties. It had many insulating properties for heat and sound but was also extremely resistant to fire, electricity, water, and chemicals. Asbestosis is cheap and so strong that its fibres cannot be broken down in the human body. The material is naturally occurring and has been used for thousands of years across the world, becoming popular in the UK following the industrial revolution.
Products that could contain asbestos
Asbestos is found in hundreds of commercial products that are still in use today. From cement to piping, insulation, tiles, sprayed coatings, cladding and rainwater goods. It can even be found in windowsills and toilet seats!
These products are found in many types of buildings, like schools, hospitals, offices, hotels and homes, particularly larger-scale commercial buildings built before the 2000s which would be expensive or difficult to renovate now.
Is asbestos still dangerous?
Asbestos was a very popular material in the construction industry before the 2000s, particularly between the 50s and 70s. It wasn’t until that its popularity grew, did public awareness of health hazards also begin to spread. After decades of popularity, health issues began to show themselves and asbestos diseases developed. People who were exposed decades prior were suddenly getting ill and dying. The legislation came into effect to make the use of Asbestos illegal in the 1980s, and by 1999, all asbestos-containing materials were banned in the UK.
As legislation only came into effect two decades ago, we are likely to continue experiencing asbestos-related diseases and deaths for another twenty years or so to come, as those affected begin to exhibit symptoms, and the exposure to asbestos becomes minimal to non-existent. As asbestos illnesses are slow and painful, with no cure, there have been several charities set up to support those with debilitating conditions.
If you own a property that was originally built before 2000, you require an asbestos survey to ensure that any suspicious building materials do not contain asbestos. If asbestos is found, it is assessed whether this material is safe to leave, however, if it is at risk of being disturbed, it must be removed in accordance with the Control of Asbestos Regulations to protect the users or occupants of the building. Despite all efforts from the HSE and governing bodies to spread awareness of the dangers of asbestos, there are still at least a few high-profile asbestos prosecutions a year.